Aug 28, 2021 - World

Report: El Salvador in talks with gangs

Police officers on patrol

National Police officers patrol a Barrio 18 stronghold as part of Nayib Bukele’s “Territorial Control” security plan. Photo: Camilo Freedman/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

President Nayib Bukele’s government has been secretly negotiating with El Salvador’s three main gangs in order to fulfill his 2019 campaign promise to lower the number of murders to zero, according to official documents dug up by news site El Faro.

Why it matters: Bukele had repeatedly criticized previous officials who secretly bargained with gang members for “negotiating with the people’s blood on the line.”

  • Those past backdoor deals were also controversial because they were seen as a capitulation to criminal groups, and the officials involved were prosecuted under Salvadoran laws for illicit association with gang members.
  • Bukele’s purported talks with the gangs started after his election in mid-2019. In exchange for less bloodletting, gang members were supposedly granted benefits like job opportunities, microfinancing, or getting fast food in jail.
  • While murders have gone down, forced disappearances and kidnappings attributed to gangs have risen.

Flashback: Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), Barrio 18 Sureños and Barrio 18 Revolucionarios were originally formed in California in the 1990s.

  • Gang members were returned to El Salvador in keeping with U.S. policy to deport immigrants convicted of crimes, and there they have routinely committed crimes like extortion, assault, kidnapping and murder.
  • The violence is one of the reasons thousands of people have fled to seek asylum in the U.S.

The other side: Bukele dismissed the El Faro report on Twitter, but did not confirm nor deny the documents and photographs cited.

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